Exploring Soundscapes Through Picture Books

“There is no such thing as an empty space or an empty time.
There is always something to see, something to hear.
In fact, try as we may to make a silence, we cannot.”
- John Cage

As a follow-up to the last blog entry, here is a collection of wonderful picture books that focus on noticing and listening to sounds.  These books can be used to encourage children to pay attention to, and even to imitate the distinctive sounds they hear – in different environments, in the city and the country, and throughout each of the seasons – and to consider how sounds can make us feel.

Gershator, Phillis. Suno Suno = Listen, Listen.  London: Mantra Lingua, 2008

This is a gorgeous dual language book that introduces children to both the sights and sounds of each season.  With each turn of the page readers can hear insects singing, leaves rustling, acorns dropping, geese honking, rain pattering and snowflakes whispering.  Children will enjoy searching for different things related to each season – frogs, mice, crickets, owls – in Alison Jay’s beautiful illustrations.  At the end of the book we revisit different animals, and children can imitate the sounds they make!

Martin, Bill and John Archambault. Listen to the Rain. New York: H. Holt, 1988

James Endicott’s clean and delicate illustrations capture the different sounds and moods of rain described in the text.  For example, whispering raindrops fall gently upon a seashell, singing raindrops steadily pitter patter on a fish in the pond, ocean waves  crash as rain roars, and a butterfly soars as we listen to the silence that follows a rain shower.  This is a perfect book to read as part of an exploration of the weather and to encourages children to think about feelings inspired by the rain.

Pearson, Debora. Big City Song. New York: Holiday House, 2006

Lynn Rowe Reed’s bright and fun illustrations capture the spirit of all the different sounds that can be heard in the city – vehicles, people, pets and pigeons, radios and church bells, to name a few.  From the time the sun comes up and we hear the street cleaner sweeping, until the time that the full moon glows and we hear raccoons banging rhythms on garbage cans, readers can enjoy the ‘symphony of sounds’ in the city!  Create lists of city sounds that children  like the most, or the least.  Which are quiet sounds?  Which are loud?  What kinds of sounds can children make to describe the ones they have experienced in their own lives?

Showers, Paul.  The Listening Walk. New York: Crowell, 1961

Aliki’s simple illustrations follow a father and daughter as they take their dog on a ‘listening walk’ along the sidewalk, through the park, by the pond and home again.  The little girl does not talk, but instead focuses on many different sounds both loud and quiet (e.g., car tires that go whrrrrrrrrr, jack hammers that go dak-dak-dak, crickets that go creet-creet-creet and wind that goes shhhhhhh). The book provides an invitation to walk around the block and listen to sounds, or discover the ones in your own yard or home.  Readers can list all the sounds they notice after closing the book!

Wolff, Ferida. It is the Wind.  New York: HarperCollins, 2005

James Ransome’s exquisite paintings capture the beauty and tranquility of the country. As a little boy prepares for sleep, he leans toward the window and notices different sounds and tries to guess what they are – an owl hooting, a gate creaking, crickets singing, sheets rustling on the line, and many others.  The repetitive text reads like a soothing lullaby that concludes with the wind sighing ‘good-night.’  Readers can be encouraged to imitate the different sounds, and share the kinds of sounds they hear before falling
asleep.

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